After being beaten repeatedly by her violent, drug-addicted husband throughout their entire relationship, Paige Lassiter finally decides to get out. This last time he threatened her life and nearly killed her. He also never wanted a child, so their son, Christopher, is little more than an inconvenience to him. Having gotten information on an underground network where battered women can disappear and create a new identity for themselves, Paige is running for her life when Christopher takes ill with a fever. She gets off the highway, hoping to find a motel, but becomes lost on the mountain roads, ending up in the tiny town of Virgin River.
It's a cold, rainy night, and John "Preacher" Middleton is just about to lock up Jack's Bar & Grill early when a woman walks through the door with a small boy in her arms. She says her child is sick, and she is looking for a place to spend the night. It doesn't take long for Preacher to realize that Paige is in trouble. He gets her something to eat, and offers her his old room above the bar for as long as she needs it. She reluctantly agrees, but adamantly insists that she will only be staying the night. Preacher isn't really used to being around women and children, but is overcome with a protective instinct for these two lost souls right from the start. As Preacher and the other residents of Virgin River rally around Paige in her time of need, one day turns to two, and two to a week, until they hardly know where the time has gone.
Preacher's gentle ways make it easy for Paige to open up to him, and she is overwhelmed by his generosity when he commits to stand by her side every step of the way as she fights for justice for herself and her son. By the time her life has settled down, Paige has fallen for Preacher and wants nothing more than to stay in Virgin River permanently. She isn't sure if he could feel the same way or if he has just been a good friend through everything, and even though her now ex-husband is temporarily behind bars, there is the constant threat that he may return to finish what he started once he is released.
I think perhaps it had been so long between my reading of Virgin River and picking up the second book of the series, Shelter Mountain, that I had forgotten how Robyn Carr's storytelling in some ways resembles women's fiction a bit more than romance. The Virgin River series has more of an ensemble cast, and the author takes frequent jaunts away from the "main" hero and heroine to explore those character's stories. While I do enjoy strong secondary characters, the pages and pages Ms. Carr devotes to them with Preacher and Paige either out of sight or in the background made me feel like they were being a little shortchanged. Overall, I would estimate that approximately one third, if not more of the book, is devoted to the other characters which left me with very mixed feelings. All their stories were interesting and added to the broader sense of community in Virgin River, but I couldn't help being a little frustrated knowing that during those times, the author could have been heightening the intimacy between Preacher and Paige by showing more of their interactions and/or deepening Paige's characterization. Still, in spite of my discontent over not seeing more of Preacher and Paige, I couldn't quite come to begrudge the other characters their moments in the limelight as their stories were pretty moving as well. These scenes also helped to build the overall series story arc which I admit does draw me in with its small-town warmth. I guess I'll just have to hope to see more of Preacher and Paige in the future books of the series, much like I got with Jack and Mel (Virgin River) in Shelter Mountain.
I totally fell for Preacher when he was just a secondary character in Virgin River, and was very much looking forward to reading his story. I tend to tire of the womanizing heroes who often populate romance novels, so an inexperienced guy like Preacher who's even rather uncomfortable and lacking confidence around women was a breath of fresh air. I thought it was very sweet that he was a little afraid of making love to Paige, but his sensitive side ended up making him a wonderful lover. It was great that Preacher had a good upbringing which left him with a solid foundation to help someone like Paige through her trauma. Even though he hadn't spent much time around women and kids, he was a real gentleman who just instinctively knew what to do and how to behave. He was very gentle, loving and patient right from the start not only with Paige, but also with her son, Christopher, who had never really known the love of a father. I even liked that he wasn't a gorgeous man and in fact, was used to his looks scaring people, but underneath it all he was just a great big teddy bear. Not only that but he was a fabulous cook too, a very unusual profession for a romance hero. I wish Jack's Bar really existed just so that I could go try Preacher's cooking. Yum!;-) The only thing that I found slightly questionable about his characterization was that for being such a shy, quiet guy who barely strung two words together in Virgin River, he seemed to turn rather talkative all of a sudden which just didn't seem to fit. Otherwise, I absolutely loved this guy.
Paige is a stereotypical battered wife. She was raised in a family with a verbally abusive father, passive mother, and bullying brother. Her upbringing likely subconsciously played a role in her marrying an abusive man who nearly beat her to death, and threatened her life, leaving her on the run. She accidentally ends up in the little town of Virgin River where everyone helps anyone in need, and of course it is there that she finds healing for not only her battered body, but her spirit as well. Preacher's gentle ways and the kindness of all the other town's people assist her in regaining her confidence to fight back against her husband. She is also a great, caring mother to Christopher. Unfortunately, this is about as far as Paige's characterization went, and I couldn't help feeling that she was somewhat underdeveloped. I really liked her, but I just didn't feel like I got to know her very well.
As I mentioned earlier, the Virgin River series has more of a community of characters, so there were supporting players aplenty. Jack and Mel are back, enjoying their newlywed status and awaiting the birth of their first child while getting in on all the other action in the story. Rick and Liz's (Paradise Valley) story continues to build, and I have to say that I couldn't have been prouder of Rick for being so responsible. Many grown men in his situation couldn't have handled what he did, and he really stepped up to the plate. Jack and Preacher have obviously been great role models for him. Liz was showing a lot more maturity too. I'll miss Rick while he's away in the Marines, as I doubt we'll see much of him for a while unless it's just a quick visit. Jack and Preacher's Marine buddy, Mike, and Jack's sister, Brie, both experience life-altering events. Mike's ends up being the catalyst for bringing him to Virgin River permanently, and making him rethink the way he's been living his life. Although Brie has just come for visits so far, I'm sure she'll be back soon and possibly in danger. This pair become the hero and heroine of the next book, Whispering Rock. Even Dan, the illegal grower, who "kidnapped" Mel to deliver a baby in Virgin River popped up a couple of times. I think there is more to him than meets the eye, and it looks like he may be sharing Paradise Valley with Rick and Liz.
While I love the guys of Virgin River, I have to say that sometimes they feel just a little off to me, perhaps a little too dichotomous. They are certainly manly men, ex-Marines and other "tough guys" with masculine pursuits such as hunting, fishing, sometimes drinking too much and occasional womanizing (single guys only of course). They're also quick to arm themselves to protect the ones they love and/or take out the bad guys, but once in a while they do things that seem pretty feminine to me. When a group of guys gets together and starts talking about the ins and outs of pregnancy, or a couple of the men pair off and one begins to share his woes while the other one dispenses touchy-feely advice, it just seems rather strange to me. Not to mention, the way pretty much all of them just go ga-ga over a pregnant woman. I love a romance hero who can be macho while also being brought to his knees by his unexpected love for a woman, and I can definitely appreciate a hero who adores his wife (especially when pregnant), but there's just something about these guys that feels a little unbalanced to me. I guess I can't complain too much though, because they are a great group of men even if they are a wee bit strange sometimes. Maybe it's just all that pure mountain air bringing out their feminine sides.;-)
One other thing about Robyn Carr, and the series in general, that gives me mixed feelings is that I don't really seem to connect with her writing style in the same deep, passionate way that many other fans do. She can certainly tell an appealing story, populated with likable characters, but I've found that she isn't a particularly detail-oriented writer, unless of course it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Don't get me wrong. I love those things, but sometimes you can have a little too much of a good thing and not enough other ingredients. When reading her books, I tend to miss all the little things such as gestures and facial expressions which I've found can bring a lot of warmth to the dialog. She also doesn't tell much about how the characters are feeling and what is motivating them to take certain actions, nor does she express tactile sensations they might be sensing. In a story like Shelter Mountain that is supposed to really tug at the heartstrings, the little things like these can make all the difference in whether I'm able to deeply connect with the characters. It took me a while to figure out, but I came to the realization that the reason for these things being missing in Ms. Carr's stories is that she has an unusual writing style where she tends to narrate from her own point of view rather than getting inside the characters heads. It's almost like she's the proverbial fly on the wall in Virgin River telling the reader what she's seeing rather then telling it from the characters' points-of-view, which can be a little frustrating for me as a reader.
Even though there are a few things about the Virgin River series that have kept it from being the fabulous reads I was expecting, I still like it well enough that I'll definitely continue. In spite of not connecting with the characters in quite the way I would prefer, I still feel like I'm becoming invested in their lives and want to know what happens next. It's almost like a small-town soap opera that can be rather addicting. I'm looking forward to seeing what's in store for Mike and Brie, and hoping to see more of my favorite characters. It should be an interesting journey, and as long as the books remain at least as appealing as they have been so far, I'll probably be in it for the long haul. I'll just have to remember to prepare myself next time for Robyn Carr's different writing style and the possibility of not seeing as much of the "main" hero and heroine as I might like.
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